Should you be “texting” your students?

Texting
CC-BY-SA By Gelatobaby on Flickr

Your students text – and they prefer it as means of communicating over voice calls and email. There are advantages to texting over email and voice calls:  you don’t need a smartphone, it’s always on, and you can send and respond to text messages at your convenience, texting is just-in-time.

Texting lets teens chat casually and quickly, unlike a voice call, which most teens see as an interruption. According to the Pew Internet and American Life project, 63% of teenagers exchange text messages every day with people in their lives. Compare that with the 39% of teens who make voice calls, or the 35% who engage face-to-face outside of school. – The Daily Beast

On our campus students are no different. According to our own 2012 Students and Technology survey, approximately 95% of our students use their cell phones for texting. As educators should we consider accommodating their preferred method of communication in our students-to-instructor communications.

Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education: “encourages contact between students and faculty” along with… “gives prompt feedback”. We know that by providing prompt feedback we can increase the level of learner engagement and that learner engagement is linked to greater student success.

I’m not trying to make the case that texting your students means they will all get A’s, but how we communicate can potentially increase interactivity between students and their instructor. Also, if you yourself are already texting, it should be relatively painless. On the other hand, if you are not a texter – this might not work for you.

As with other class interactions, students need to know what to expect.  I’m not suggesting you be available via text 24-7. However, if you’re going to offer texting as a communication option, be sure to let them know when you will be available and approximately how long they can expect to wait for a response. If you can’t be reached on certain days or after certain hours, let them know what to expect.

One concern faculty have concerns privacy – many people just aren’t comfortable giving out their cell phone number…

Enter Google voice – a phone number that offers texting capability. Google Voice can be used online or can be forwarded to your own phone. It is a free service and the number can be posted right in your Blackboard course or email signature.

My account Google Voice is set up so that voice calls go directly to voicemail, they are then converted to text (albeit not understandable – they still have some bugs to work out with this feature) and then sent to me as a text message or via email. I can elect to answer my texts on the computer or forward to my email or cell phone. I decide when and if I reply. I also have the option of having my calls go to Google chat and connect with me if I am available online – this works well for virtual office hours.

Google Voice Settings for Text and Voice call

If you really want to get fancy, you can create groups (for your courses) and use “custom greetings” – “This is professor Peabody, I am not available at this time. Please leave a message and I will get back to you within the next 24 hours.” Other Google Voice options include  “do not disturb” or having text messages go forwarded to an email account where you may respond via your smartphone or tablet.

If you decide to try texting with your students them to identify themselves in their first message so you may add their number to your contacts list. You might also remind them not to text and drive  (consider including this in your syllabus) – not only is it extremely dangerous, it’s against the law.

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